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Patna HC stays alleged verification forgery case vs BCI chairman Mishra & ex-VC (who quickly vacated office, having no interest in getting involved)

The BCI lawyer verification drive is not what it seems, alleges a Patna lawyer

No comments received from Manan Kumar Mishra on allegations
No comments received from Manan Kumar Mishra on allegations

The Patna high court stayed a criminal trial against Bar Council of India (BCI) chairman Manan Kumar Mishra and office bearers on 9 March, seven months after a local lawyer alleged that advocate verification rules had been notified through forgery and cheating and were being used to misappropriate funds.

In July 2016, Patna district court advocate Umesh Singh had filed a criminal complaint, alleging forgery, cheating and conspiracy allegations against Mishra, then-BCI vice chairman Nilesh Kumar Aggarwal and the BCI’s “current” general secretary.

On 14 February 2017, judicial magistrate Sarika Vahila passed an order saying that a prima facie case of forgery and cheating was made out against Mishra and Aggarwal and that a trial could proceed, which was reported by a local Hindi newspaper at the time.

The BCI, represented by advocate Sanjay Kumar Pandey, in a writ petition then challenged the magistrate’s jurisdiction to have ordered a trial without a detailed inquiry.

In temporarily staying the magistrate’s order, Patna high court’s Justice Birendra Kumar gave Singh two weeks’ time to respond, failing which the application should be dismissed. Counsel for the state of Bihar asked for time to file a counter affdiavit.

While Singh’s petition, a copy of which we have seen, offered no additional evidence for his allegations and we were not able to verify his claims independently, we had emailed Mishra and Aggarwal for comments on the allegations on 8 March.

Mishra has not responded to date.

However, Aggarwal responded and questioned the veracity of the allegations, as well as any alleged involvement of his.

Ex-vice chairman Aggarwal leaves, not wanting to get dragged in

Aggarwal, who is the BCI’s elected member from Ranchi, said he had been appointed as the council’s vice chairman in May 2016, but that he had resigned as BCI vice chairman in July 2016, shortly after Singh had filed the case.

He commented: “I had joined [as vice chairman] only with the intention of doing something good for the institution but the moment I came to know [of the forgery and cheating complaint] I tendered my resignation as I did not want to be involved in all these wrongdoings.”

Aggarwal noted: “The complaint only points fingers at the office of the vice chairman and not at Nilesh [Kumar Aggarwal], so I thought [the office] adversely affects my practice at Ranchi as it hurts my reputation.”

He also told us that the Patna high court had stayed Vahila’s order on 9 March, issuing notice to Singh to appear, adding last week when contacted that a copy of the order was not yet available because of the intervening Holi break.

The complaint in a nutshell

Singh had filed the criminal complaint in July 2016.

While the substance of the complaint is not completely clear from the petition, Singh made several allegations and added in a phone call last Wednesday that Mishra was allegedly not using the verification exercise to weed out fake advocates but was using it to create a vote bank in his own favour.

However, Singh did not share with us any further evidence to support his allegations, despite our repeated requests since last Wednesday.

Singh confirmed last week that the judicial magistrate’s order in his favour had been stayed by the Patna high court but added that he was yet to receive a copy of the notice to appear.

Patna high court’s Justice Kumar in his stay order summarised the allegations as:

By the impugned order cognizance has been taken against the petitioners for offences under Sections 420 and 468 of the Indian Penal Code in Complaint Case No. 2312 (C) of 2016 by learned Judicial Magistrate, 1 st Class, Patna.

Allegation in the complaint petition is that the petitioners by producing some fictitious document get the earlier Bar Council Rules replaced by some new once just to cheat the members of the association.

Aggarwal rebuts allegations

Former BCI vice-chairman Aggarwal commented: “The statement which has been made [by] the complainant, is absolutely perverse without any basis and knowledge the same was only to malign an institution and its office bearers it is a clear case of perjury or fraud with court.”

Aggarwal added that the complainant had hidden from the court the fact that the verification rules had been challenged before various high courts and the Supreme Court had already given directions for their early implementation.

This point was also mentioned by Justice Kumar in the stay order:

Submission of the petitioners is that the validity of the new rules was challenged in C.W.J.C. No. 9976 of 2016 which was dismissed by a Division Bench of this Court by order dated 30.09.2016 vide Annexure – 3 of the writ petition

Any rule or order passed by the BCI was the decision of the general house, therefore no office bearer could be individually held responsible for it.

Aggarwal added: “It is the duty of complainant to show prima facie before learned court that any specific account opened and any specific amount deposited and withdrawn by any individual or even by BCI. In contrary, he has alleged that on the basis of forged rule, amount has been collected, for wrongful loss and gain. He [is] having no details [and] has filed this case in public interest, [but] he is not the sufferer since he had not deposited any amount.”

Aggarwal concluded in his response: “He has not alleged any specific role, except naming office bearers in accused column, [but] no other averments [were] made or alleged against any office bearers specifically.”

Mishra did not respond to our email putting to him the allegations in the petition, and offering him unedited publication of his full response.

As we’ve said above, we are not able to confirm the veracity or details of the allegations made in court.

That said, last year three BCI members were jailed for corruption after the CBI busted their racket of taking bribes to accredit law colleges, so it should be in the interests of all sides in this case for transparent and speedy hearings to establish whether the allegations hold water.

Patna high court order staying case filed by local advocate against BCI chairman Mishra (PDF)

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